The Perfect Storm: Climate Change and Thunderstorm Asthma

The Perfect Storm: Climate Change and Thunderstorm Asthma

Thunderstorm and Lightning over grass

Impact Summary

This project explores impacts of climate change on human health in Australia and internationally, with a focus on the impacts on airborne allergens such as pollen and the phenomenon known as thunderstorm asthma. In collaboration with an inter-disciplinary research team of experts from universities and government, Associate Professor Paul Beggs has taken a leading role in research at the frontier of this dynamic field. It encompasses the MJA-Lancet Countdown tracking progress on health and climate change, and investigation of the world’s most severe and deadly epidemic thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne in November 2016. Through these, it is improving the health and preventing the death of people living with allergic respiratory diseases both now and into the future

Impact Leaders

Paul Beggs Paul Beggs
Associate Professor
Macquarie University
Janet Davies 

Janet Davies
Professor
Queensland University of Technology

Alfredo Huete 

Alfredo Huete
Distinguished Professor
University of Technology Sydney

Simon Haberle 

Simon Haberle
Professor
The Australian National University

Edward Newbigin 

Edward Newbigin
Associate Professor
The University of Melbourne

Frank Thien 

Frank Thien
Professor
Monash University

Tony Capon 

Tony Capon
Professor
The University of Sydney

Elizabeth Ebert 

Elizabeth Ebert
Doctor
Bureau of Meteorology

Lewis Ziska 

Lewis Ziska
Associate Professor
Columbia Unviversity

Joroen Buters 

Jeroen Buters
Professor Dr
Technical University Munich

Beneficiaries

  • Australian Government
  • Bureau of Meteorology
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
  • Other national governments (e.g., US)
  • NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
  • NSW Health
  • Victorian Inspector-General for Emergency Management
  • Victorian Department of Health and Human Services
  • Other state governments
  • The community (e.g., people with asthma and allergic rhinitis)
  • Policy makers
  • Asthma Australia
  • Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Countries where impact occurred

World Map of impact of Climate Change and Thunderstorm Asthma

Research associated with impact

The project is founded on inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary research involving Australian and international experts ranging from the environmental sciences, biological sciences, and mathematical sciences, to the health and medical sciences. Recent high profile examples, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, include the investigation of environmental triggers, effect on health services, and patient risk factors of the 2016 Melbourne thunderstorm asthma event; and the international inter-comparison of temperature-related changes in airborne allergenic pollen abundance and seasonality across the northern hemisphere. Impacts of this research have included input to the world’s first thunderstorm asthma warning service by VicEmergency, and being cited in evidence in the Coronial inquiry of the 10 thunderstorm asthma deaths.

The inaugural MJA-Lancet Countdown assessment was published on 29 November 2018. Media coverage of this work has been extensive, as has engagement with it amongst the wider community, reflected in the article’s Altmetric being in the top 1% compared to outputs of the same age. The publication of the assessment was accompanied by launches in Sydney and Canberra and a Briefing for Australian Policymakers.

In 2018, A/Prof Beggs’ book Impacts of Climate Change on Allergens and Allergic Diseases was awarded Choice Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association. This prestigious award recognises excellence in presentation and scholarship, importance relative to other literature in the field, distinction as a first treatment of a given subject, and originality or uniqueness of treatment.

More Information

The Conversation

Beggs P, Berry HL, Linnenluecke M, Zhang Y. Heatwaves threaten Australians’ health, and our politicians aren’t doing enough about it. The Conversation 29 November 2018. https://theconversation.com/heatwaves-threaten-australians-health-and-our-politicians-arent-doing-enough-about-it-107793

Davies J, Beggs P. Future hay fever seasons will be worse thanks to climate change. The Conversation 20 November 2014. https://theconversation.com/future-hay-fever-seasons-will-be-worse-thanks-to-climate-change-34074

Newbigin E, Huete A, Ebert B, Davies J, Silver J, Beggs P. Keeping one step ahead of pollen triggers for thunderstorm asthma. The Conversation 7 December 2016. https://theconversation.com/keeping-one-step-ahead-of-pollen-triggers-for-thunderstorm-asthma-69408

News articles

Australian inaction on climate change threatens citizen health. Open Forum, 1 December 2018. http://www.openforum.com.au/australian-inaction-on-climate-change-threatens-citizen-health/

Peter Hannam. Mental health added to impact of climate change as global damage grows. The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 November 2018. https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/mental-health-added-to-impact-of-climate-change-as-global-damage-grows-20181129-p50j2d.html

Felicity Nelson. We are unprepared for climate change impact on allergies. The Medical Republic, 7 December 2018. http://medicalrepublic.com.au/unprepared-climate-change-impact-allergies/18196

Belinda Tasker. Australian lives at risk from lack of climate policy: expert report. In Daily, 29 November 2018. https://indaily.com.au/news/2018/11/29/australian-lives-at-risk-from-lack-of-climate-policy-expert-report/

Heatwaves threaten our health, and politicians aren't doing enough about it. AusDoc.PLUS, 30 November 2018. https://pharmacynews.com.au/views/heatwaves-threaten-our-health-and-politicians-arent-doing-enough-about-it

Websites

Lancet Countdown: http://www.lancetcountdown.org/

AusPollen: https://auspollen.com.au/

VicEmergency Thunderstorm Asthma Forecast: https://www.emergency.vic.gov.au/prepare/#thunderstorm-asthma-forecast

Podcast

MJA-Lancet Countdown: https://www.mja.com.au/podcast/209/11/mja-podcasts-2018-episode-99-mja-lancet-countdown-climate-change-aprof-paul-beggs

References and further reading

Book

Beggs PJ (Editor). Impacts of Climate Change on Allergens and Allergic Diseases. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016. See: www.cambridge.org/9781107048935

Journal articles

Beggs PJ. Allergen aerosol from pollen-nucleated precipitation: a novel thunderstorm asthma trigger. Atmospheric Environment 2017;152:455-457. DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.12.045

Beggs PJ. Climate change and allergy in Australia: an innovative, high-income country, at potential risk. Public Health Research & Practice 2018;28(4):e2841828. DOI: 10.17061/phrp2841828

Beggs PJ, Davies JM, Milic A, Haberle SG, Johnston FH, Jones PJ, Katelaris CH, Newbigin E. Australian Airborne Pollen and Spore Monitoring Network Interim Standard and Protocols. Version 2, 14 September 2018. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. https://www.allergy.org.au/images/stories/pospapers/Australian_Pollen_and_Spore_Monitoring_Interim_Standard_and_Protocols_v2_14092018.pdf

Beggs PJ, Katelaris CH, Medek D, Johnston FH, Burton PK, Campbell B, Jaggard AK, Vicendese D, Bowman DMJS, Godwin I, Huete AR, Erbas B, Green BJ, Newnham RM, Newbigin E, Haberle SG, Davies JM. Differences in grass pollen allergen exposure across Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2015;39(1):51-55. DOI: 10.1111/1753-6405.12325

Beggs PJ, Zhang Y. The MJA–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: Australian policy inaction threatens lives. The Medical Journal of Australia 2018;209(11):474-475. DOI: 10.5694/mja18.00789ps

Behrens G, Zhang Y, Beggs P. Lancet Countdown 2018 Report: Briefing for Australian Policymakers. Lancet Countdown, 2018. http://www.lancetcountdown.org/media/1394/2018-lancet-countdown-australia-policy-brief-final-for-upload.pdf

Davies JM, Beggs PJ, Medek DE, Newnham RM, Erbas B, Thibaudon M, Katelaris CH, Haberle SG, Newbigin EJ, Huete AR. Trans-disciplinary research in synthesis of grass pollen aerobiology and its importance for respiratory health in Australasia. Science of the Total Environment 2015;534:85-96. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.001

Devadas R, Huete AR, Vicendese D, Erbas B, Beggs PJ, Medek D, Haberle SG, Newnham RM, Johnston FH, Jaggard A, Campbell B, Burton PK, Katelaris CH, Newbigin E, Thibaudon M, Davies JM. Dynamic ecological observations from satellites inform aerobiology of allergenic grass pollen. Science of the Total Environment 2018;633:441–451. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.191

Haberle SG, Bowman DMJS, Newnham RM, Johnston FH, Beggs PJ, Buters J, Campbell B, Erbas B, Godwin I, Green BJ, Huete A, Jaggard AK, Medek D, Murray F, Newbigin E, Thibaudon M, Vicendese D, Williamson GJ, Davies JM. The macroecology of airborne pollen in Australian and New Zealand urban areas. PLoS ONE 2014;9(5):e97925. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097925

Inspector-General for Emergency Management. Review of Response to the Thunderstorm Asthma Event of 21–22 November 2016: Final Report. Inspector-General for Emergency Management, Department of Justice and Regulation, Victoria State Government, 2017. https://www.igem.vic.gov.au/reports-and-publicationsigem-reports/review-of-response-to-the-thunderstorm-asthma-event-of-21-22-0

Lynch AJJ, Thackway R, Specht A, Beggs PJ, Brisbane S, Burns EL, Byrne M, Capon SJ, Casanova MT, Clarke PA, Davies JM, Dovers S, Dwyer RG, Ens E, Fisher DO, Flanigan M, Garnier E, Guru SM, Kilminster K, Locke J, Mac Nally R, McMahon KM, Mitchell PJ, Pierson JC, Rodgers EM, Russell-Smith J, Udy J, Waycott M. Transdisciplinary synthesis for ecosystem science, policy and management: the Australian experience. Science of the Total Environment 2015;534:173–184. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.100

Milic A, Addison-Smith B, Jones PJ, Beggs PJ, Erbas B, Davies JM. Quality control of pollen identification and quantification exercise for the AusPollen Aerobiology Collaboration Network: a pilot study. Aerobiologia 2019. DOI: 10.1007/s10453-019-09580-4

Thien F, Beggs PJ, Csutoros D, Darvall J, Hew M, Davies JM, Bardin PG, Bannister T, Barnes S, Bellomo R, Byrne T, Casamento A, Conron M, Cross A, Crosswell A, Douglass JA, Durie M, Dyett J, Ebert E, Erbas B, French C, Gelbart B, Gillman A, Harun N-S, Huete A, Irving L, Karalapillai D, Ku D, Lachapelle P, Langton D, Lee J, Looker C, MacIsaac C, McCaffrey J, McDonald CF, McGain F, Newbigin E, O’Hehir R, Pilcher D, Prasad S, Rangamuwa K, Ruane L, Sarode V, Silver JD, Southcott AM, Subramaniam A, Suphioglu C, Susanto NH, Sutherland MF, Taori G, Taylor P, Torre P, Vetro J, Wigmore G, Young AC, Guest C. The Melbourne epidemic thunderstorm asthma event 2016: an investigation of environmental triggers, effect on health services, and patient risk factors. The Lancet Planetary Health 2018;2(6):e255–e263. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(18)30120-7

Zhang Y, Beggs PJ. The Lancet Countdown down-under: tracking progress on health and climate change in Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia 2018;208(7):285-286. DOI: 10.5694/mja17.01245

Zhang Y, Beggs PJ, Bambrick H, Berry HL, Linnenluecke MK, Trueck S, Alders R, Bi P, Boylan SM, Green D, Guo Y, Hanigan IC, Hanna EG, Malik A, Morgan GG, Stevenson M, Tong S, Watts N, Capon AG. The MJA–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: Australian policy inaction threatens lives. The Medical Journal of Australia 2018;209(11):1.e1- 1.e21. DOI: 10.5694/mja18.00789

Ziska LH, Makra L, Harry SK, Bruffaerts N, Hendrickx M, Coates F, Saarto A, Thibaudon M, Oliver G, Damialis A, Charalampopoulos A, Vokou D, Heiđmarsson S, Guđjohnsen E, Bonini M, Oh J-W, Sullivan K, Ford L, Brooks GD, Myszkowska D, Severova E, Gehrig R, Ramón GD, Beggs PJ, Knowlton K, Crimmins AR. Temperature-related changes in airborne allergenic pollen abundance and seasonality across the northern hemisphere: a retrospective data analysis. The Lancet Planetary Health 2019;3(3):e124–e131. DOI: 10.1016/S2542-5196(19)30015-4

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